Artist blurs line between art, science

The ever so promiscuous science has had an affair with machinery, been courted by technology and has even gone on a few dates with food. But now science is smitten with art.

The UH Visual Studies department, in conjunction with the Physics Department, Texas Learning and Computation Center and Houston’s FotoFest showcased John Chervinsky, scientist and photographer, as their Fall ’07 guest lecturer. Chervinsky’s work displays the connection between science and art. Several of his pieces share his account of the environment in which he was raised, Niagara Falls, N.Y., and his profession in engineering.

"I was delighted when I learned Chervinsky was coming to speak. Perspective is an important scientific concept of art. Photography is the most scientific art. We were delighted to help co-sponsor the event," associated professor of physics Kevin Bassler said.

Thanks to his involvement at Harvard University’s Applied Physics Laboratory where he managed a particle accelerator, Chervinsky was able to add biology, archeology, physics, fine art conservation and analysis to his r’eacute;sum’eacute;.

Though he said the quality of education was terrible, he always had a strong interest in science.

"I had my own chem lab. I used to entertain family and friends with my homemade pyrotechnics," Chervinsky said.

When he got older and moved to Buffalo, N.Y., he began to go to museums.

"When I first started going I viewed the work with skepticism. I said, ‘Look at this crap. I could do this.’ If I believed I could do this crap maybe I should try," he said.

He spent much of the 1990s perfecting his craft. He did his work and compared it to the work he saw in museums and tried to prepare it not for himself, but for strangers. He said that tragedy in his life inspired him to work.

"I became very focused on doing something other that thinking about my problems. If I am going to do something with my life, I should get it done because tomorrow is not promised," Chervinsky said.

Most of Chervinsky’s work is in black and white and features a mechanical or technological object in front of a chalkboard with connected drawings in chalk.

"I wanted to explore the conflicts of reason and belief, the dehumanizing of technology," Chervinsky said. "After I started to add objects to the chalk line they started to take on a life of their own."

His pieces explore topics such as the afterlife, gun rights, nuclear war, environmental issues, limitations of science, how long technology will function after human extinction and one is even inspired by a Robert Frost poem.

"Sometimes I approach these issues in a very oblique way. I like it when people make up their own meaning. What artists can gain from the world of science is a chance to break new ground, a chance to break free of post-modern pessimism. I would describe my work as an expression of our worry," Chervinsky said.

It took very little for Chervinsky’s art to get noticed. The opportunity came when FotoFest creative directors did their annual search for international artists at festivals across the world. These recruitments led to FotoFest’s International Discoveries: A Selection of Contemporary Artists from Around the World.

"He is creating constructive narratives with science. He is interested in bringing science and art together," Jennifer Ward, a representative from Fotofest, said.

FotoFest has ventured out to countries across the world to present nine eclectic photographers with a one story to tell: perspective.

Artists such as Alessandra Sanguinetti from Argentina, which through her photography, shows two children maturing from childhood to adulthood. Roberto Fern’aacute;ndez Ib’aacute;’ntilde;ez from Uruguay explores nature and takes his viewer through the seasons. Kelly Flynn, another U.S. photographer, uses gender roles and sexual iconography that portray a serious tone with comic relief. Chan-Hyo Bae, residing in South Korea, opens the eyes of others by showcasing what life looks like through the eyes of an Asian immigrant.

Jes’uacute;s Jim’eacute;nez (Mexico/London) has a playful characteristic to his photography. Przemyslaw Pokrycki from Poland takes us from birth to death. Diego Ranea, also from Argentina, puts a twist on what conventional landscapes.

FotoFest is a non-profit organization that gives artists an opportunity to express themselves through photographic art forms. Founded by Frederick Baldwin, Wendy Watriss and Petra Benteler, the trio has made Fotofest a home for museum-quality artists to reign.

Both science and art students were excited to participate in Chervinsky’s lecture.

"I saw the show at FotoFest and wanted to come out. I had never heard of him before. I hope I get a little understanding of his concepts," photography junior Chuck Ivy said.

More of Chervinsky’s art can be seen at International Discoveries is on view through Dec. 8. For more information, visit

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